Regain Your Focus With Headphones

I’m a firm believer that a good set of headphones can be one of the greatest boosts to your productivity you can buy. If you work in an office environment, you are always surrounded by distractions. There’s always someone nearby discussing the latest gossip, a new project coming along, or that great TV show from last night. Sure, your computer probably has speakers, but I’m sure that you are a considerate person who wouldn’t add yet another distraction to the workplace. That’s where the headphones come in. Put on the heaphones, turn on some music, and let the rest of the world fade away. Ahhh, sweet focus.

Posted on January 1, 2013 .

Do Apple Launch Events Push Up the Share Price?

Nobody launches a product quite like Apple. They don’t just launch products, they create events around them. The rumors pile up for months, the press waits for tickets to attend the big unveiling, and customers download hour-long presentations at home. The company has gained fame from announcing surprise items and ensuring that what they share is “magical”.

Of course, Apple is a business. In fact, they are a very profitable business. The employees may be driven to make great products, but shareholders are out to make profits. You can find plenty of news about impressive revenue these products have driven, but does just the announcement of a new product bring a boost to share prices?

This following data viz seeks to answer that very question. Dive in to analyze nearly three decades of product launches. In an attempt to isolate the impact of each event, a comparison is provided of the adjusted closing price before and after the event.

In addition, the second tab includes an event-focused view. This may help reveal which launch dates were the most impactful. It may also offer clues as to why certain products are connected with surprising gains (perhaps the newest Apple TV wasn’t the primary driver of the share price this Spring).

What do you see?

Posted on April 25, 2012 .

We’re All Experts at Something.

I want to create.

That’s it. That’s why I have this blog. I may have a few additional motives; but what interests me about having my own corner of the Internet is that it is my chance to create. What I often struggle with is just what to create.

It’s not that I have a complete lack of ideas. In fact, there seems to be multitudes of ideas in my mind just begging to be released. What gets in the way is that I often hold back. Instead of writing a post, I think to myself “somebody knows much more about this” or “nobody’s interested in that.”


Posted on October 2, 2011 .

Where Eight Glasses a Day isn’t an Option

We take plenty of things for granted. When our Fall allergies kick in, we get medication. If our smartphone breaks, we feel lost until it is replaced. Of course, most of our mothers have been telling us this for decades.We simply forget how fortunate we are to have the things we use every day.

The interactive data visualization below describes something we use every day: clean water. Think about how much water you use each day. How many glasses do you drink each day? Unfortunately, not everyone has access to clean water. You may have heard about places without access to clean water before, but some of the numbers may surprise you.

Wasting Vacation Time Isn’t Cool

This is your four month warning: Schedule your vacation! If you are the type of person who uses all of your vacation days by January, this post may not make sense to you. However, I think we’ve all seen the stats that show Americans don’t use all of their vacation time. More and more, you hear people reference vacation time as a luxury. I hear things like “One of these days I’ll find room for some time off.” or “Your trip sounds nice, I’m trying to get a vacation in.”

Posted on September 4, 2011 .

Find Your 2011 NFL Fantasy Quarterback

The NFL lockout is over, and the season is fast approaching. That means that it is time to prepare for fantasy football. Part of the fun of such preparation is diving into the stats. Below is a visualization to help you select a quarterback. It includes player projections, as well as historical data to back it up.  

Powered by Tableau

Dig into the data and see if anybody stands out that you may not have thought of. Perhaps a little data can give you an edge over the rest of your league. Find an undervalued quarterback to pick up in a later round. Check out the historical data to see who has consistently performed each year. That said, don’t forget to read up on who has lost their star receivers, or may be injury prone. 

Let me know what you think. Would you use this to help you? Would you bring this to draft day? I’d love to hear what you think. 

Thanks to Tableau and CBS Sports.

Posted on July 23, 2011 .

End on a High Note

We like things wrapped up. We like clean finishes. Who wants to leave any unanswered questions? I do.

Unanswered questions are interesting. Unanswered questions get people talking, specifically asking more questions. When you share your story, though a presentation, video, or otherwise, unanswered questions can be very useful. If your audience thinks they know everything at your conclusion, then they may not feel the need to think any longer.

I recently watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” for the first time. It’s a classic film starring the great Jimmy Stewart as a man appointed as a U.S. Senator for a few months. Long story short, he is good and honest man who takes on the powers of corruption. I won’t spoil the end for you, but I will tell you that as soon as a resolution emerges, the movie is over. There is no epilogue to explain what happened to the characters. There is no sweeping shot of the capitol while we are told what happened next. It just ends. This happened a lot in older films, not as often now.

A more recent example would be “The Matrix” films. At the end of the original movie, Neo flies to the sky, the credits come up, and the soundtrack blares. We all were then left speechless to try to guess at what happened next (heck, we still needed to settle out everything that happened in the movie). It was a great end. I imagined all the possibilities of what could happen. Then we got the sequels. Regardless of whether or not you enjoyed them (I did), I think we can agree that it sought to answer many of the remaining questions. Unfortunately, these detailed sequels were not as interesting as the original; as they expanded the world the characters lived in, but didn’t contain as compelling of a story.

When you tell your story, do just that. Tell the story. Stories end. If you present the results of your project, share the important facts and the key points you want to address. If someone wants to know additional details, let them ask later. In my opinion, it’s much better to end on a high note, leaving people wanting more. If you audience wants more from you, that means they are interested, and are likely to continue thinking about what you had to say. All the better.


Posted on July 12, 2011 .

Side Projects

I continue to be thoroughly impressed with friends and colleagues of mine who pursue side projects. Most of us don’t have one singular passion, so I’m always excited to see people following more than one path. Also, I’m really happy for friends who are pushing through daily work that they don’t quite love, while spending their “free time” on the work that truly makes them happy. From those who just help out a friend with their website, to those that research new investments, to those who create art and travel across the country to promote it, to those who have very successful local bands.

Maybe these peoples side projects will take off, maybe they’ll stay just where they are. The point is, these people are getting off their couches and making a way for themselves. Not only that, these are usually people that do a great job at everything they put their mind to. In many cases, I’m not sure what they classify as their “side project”.

Posted on June 4, 2011 .

The above illustration of parity in the NFL (posted on reddit) got plenty of attention this week. I think it is a pretty interesting way to show how things have turned out in the NFL this year. Our fantasy football league commissioner made a comment that we could do something similar for our league. The second image is the result of that challenge.


Posted on November 28, 2010 .

Quick Review: REWORK

front cover

I’m not one for long reviews, so I will keep this simple. 

A great deal has been said about REWORK. It is a collection of frank essays that may cause you to rethink how you work. I found many of the authors’ points to ring true. Key messages throughout the book include “keep it simple” and “get things done”. Like the topics of many books, these seem simple but are not always easy to put into practice. We often create a large group to work through a project through a long series of meetings, rather than let a small team work out a simpler solution. When workloads rise, we quickly move to expand teams, rather than prioritize. I know that issue all too well. 

I really enjoyed REWORK. I like reading books that are broken down into small segments. Smaller segments give me the option to read for shorter periods of time, as well as allow myself to think about where insights can be applied in my daily work. This book may be focused on small businesses, but those of us in larger work environments have a lot to gain from these pages. Simply put, I wish I worked with more people who subscribed to the thoughts of this book. 


Posted on June 30, 2010 .

Did you make the top ten today?

Isn’t it amazing how ESPN can fit an entire day’s worth of sports into an hour? The effort of hundreds of athletes can somehow be boiled down to a few highlights. Unfortunately, our work is often viewed in the same way. 

Think for a moment about the last few sales meetings, conference calls, or one-on-one conversations you have experienced. What sticks out to you? What key moments come to mind? We tend to focus on on the extraordinary (what interests us). This means that we remember the time a sales guy had his demo crash three times, the unimportant issue a boss fixated on, or the time a coworker snapped under pressure. Hopefully, you can also think of the consultant who made that great suggestion, the unexpected recognition from your manager, or the time your team excelled in a tough situation.

These “highlights” can make the difference for you. Your actions may be enough to make a client forget about a few slip-ups, or they can make someone lose sight of how great your product is. By doing good work and thinking of someone else’s perspective, you may be able to prevent yourself from making the blooper reel.


Posted on June 10, 2010 .

Who Are You Talking To?

Try this move the next time that you are in a conversation with your family or some friends. Tell the group that you have something to say, turn away from them, and then tell a story. I mean it. Greet your significant other, turn ninety degrees, and tell them about your day. Let me know how that works. Better yet, try it while reading from notes.

Sound strange to you? It should. Then again, its doesn’t seem strange if you or your colleagues present this way. This is a habit we need to break. Presentations are more effective, interesting, and remembered when they are personal. Try these four simple tips to make your presentation more personal.

1. Stand Up In Front: It’s simple, let your audience see you. It helps you connect with them. Think about the times when talking on the phone wasn’t enough. Tell your story face-to-face. Just a bit of eye contact can go a long way. Speaking of which…..

2. Use Minimal Notes (If Any): If your material isn’t important enough for you to know it, why should your audience? Spend less time looking at your notes, and more connecting with your audience. This includes looking at your slides!

3. Drive: Those who are brave enough to stand at the front of the class to speak often will ask another person to advance the slides for them (“Can you drive?”). This can work if your “driver” knows you and your material well enough, but often presents a problem. The speaker inevitably has to ask for the next slide. If this happens enough, it becomes distracting. Control your own presentation. Invest in a wireless presenting tool. A wireless mouse can work as well. I’m not a big fan of timing your slides to change automatically, but that can help too (it just leaves little room for questions or alterations). 

That’s it. If these instructions seem simple, it’s because they are. Just look your audience in the eye and talk to them. Keep your distractions down and share your story. It may take time to feel comfortable, but you will be a better presenter in the end. Perhaps more importantly, presenting this way may help your audience remember more of what you say. People remember what is personal to them, so be personal.


Posted on May 27, 2010 .

You are not Al Roker.

You have probably seen this in a presentation. You may have done this yourself (I know I have). Slides are projected on a wall, probably complex slides, maybe a diagram. The presenter proceeds to stand in front of the screen, possibly having their slides projected onto themselves, and begin to gesture wildly at the imagery in their slides. “You will see over here…” “it then moves to stage 2…” Stop it! You are not the weatherman.  There are no cold fronts on your slides, so don’t gesture as if they were. 

Ok, that may be a bit dramatic, but its true. If you take the time to plan your slide animations well (and use them appropriately), you don’t need the wild gestures. Communicate a process with subtle motion. Fade your next point in as you come to it. Better yet, design your slides so you don’t even need those. Keep one idea to a slide.

Remember, your slides aren’t the show, you are. You don’t want your show to feature you waving your arms around wildly, do you?

P.S. This is no slight on anyone in the weather profession. I took a weather class in college, and didn’t do so well. What works for them may not work in other situations. Also, if you are a cheerful weatherman working for the Today Show, you just may be Al Roker.

Posted on April 14, 2010 .

The Big Picture

Here is something that can set you aside from the rest of the pack: think about the big picture. I don’t mean that you should sit around and daydream, in fact, quite the opposite. Think about the importance of your actions in the grander scheme of things. Sure, your calendar is full of “important stuff”, but what does that mean to your boss, your boss’ boss, or your customers? Would they care? We all have taken part in a conversation, a phone call, or a meeting in which we wanted to stand up and ask So what? Why do I care? “Everybody else” has their own worldview, their own idea of what is important. Make sure that you recognise that you may have different priorities than others. Try to recognise the priorities of others. If you can do that, you can help them. Help them achieve their goals, and you become valuable. When you look at the big picture, what you should really be doing becomes clearer.


Posted on April 6, 2010 .

Photo editing software cost too much? Try GIMP.

If you are like me, one of the barriers to using Photoshop at work or home is the price. Sure, Photoshop elements is pretty reasonable, but what is more reasonable than free?  GIMP is an open source tool that offers much of the same functionality (at none of the cost). It might take some getting used to, but so does Photoshop if you don’t know it well. 

I have used GIMP to edit pictures for my presentations, and I’ve been happy with it. I am quite the newbie, but I have been able to clean up my images pretty well. 

Please note, Photoshop is a great product. For those of you who work with this software day in and day out, your needs may be different than the casual users.

Do you use any photo editing software? Have you tried GIMP? Do you think I am a fool for endorsing anything but the great Photoshop? Go ahead, let me have it.


Posted on March 29, 2010 .

Obesity Plagues the Poor

I built the following visualization with Tableau Public, a free version of their excellent software. I appreciate that Tableau has chosen to make a free version of their product that allows people like me to analyse and share data with you. I highly suggest that you check out Tableau’s blog for more great examples of what can be done with their tool.

That said, take a look at this “viz”. I used USDA information to look at obesity and poverty across the United States. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Powered by Tableau


Posted on March 26, 2010 .

It's all part of the plan

How much planning went into your last presentation? What about the last report you created? For many of us, unless we are forced by a larger process, we create our work as we go. After all, who has the time to plan? These days, isn’t it just faster to create a first draft and make improvements later?

Sometimes, “winging it” is good enough. However, I know that in my case there is a big difference between the work that is planned, and the work that isn’t. My better presentations were sketched out before built into slides. Reports that I took the time to design beforehand, required less edits later on. The fact is, we need to keep the big picture in mind. Before you focus on whether or not a particular detail is what you want to use, step back and get your message down. Chose the right charts and graphs for your data. Think about about what colors you want to use. A little bit of planning can help make the difference between good work and great work.


Posted on March 25, 2010 .

And here we go

This is it, the beginning. Welcome to my blog. I am not sure what this will lead to, but I am excited. I plan for this to be part of a conversation about some of the topics I am interested in and have learned a good deal about. As of now, that boils down to one word: storytelling. I’m not talking about sitting around a campfire, but instead the storytelling you and I do each and every day. We tell stories with visual aids. We tell stories with data. We tell stories that get our point across and win people over.

I am not an expert, I am a student. However, I think it may be helpful for you to learn with me. I have learned a great deal by working with some good people and studying the work of those who have gone before me (and are still going strong!). I want to share some of their insights, along with some of my own.

A bit to vague for you? Well, read on. I hope I can help you, and I bet you can help me. Let’s talk about data visualization. Let’s talk about presentations people will actually want to sit through. Let’s talk about getting things done, instead of wasting away in meetings or catching up on a relentless deluge of e-mail. Lets talk about leadership, whether or not you have the title of one. Lets talk about being vital. 

This blog is about the pursuit of excellence. We can pursue it by always striving to do better, by learning how to be the best at what we do.

I will do my best to keep this up as much as I can. Please be patient with me. I hope my writing will get better as I go. I will make mistakes. Let me know when you disagree. Just please be polite. Like most of you, I have a day job and loved ones that have to come first. I hope to keep this blog updated throughout the week. Let me know what you think. I will do my best to get back to as much as I can, as fast as I can. 


Posted on March 23, 2010 .